“Comfort zone” is a colloquial expression that describes conditions that are familiar, challenges that are not too difficult, or experiences that offer a sense of simplicity and control. When you are in your comfort zone, there may be limited stress and anxiety in your daily life. You feel more certain about your actions, and you may be less likely to face failure because you are taking so few risks. International students, who have already taken a big risk by leaving their home country, may tend to search for familiar experiences—those that are within their comfort zone.
As an international student, you may be missing home-cooked meals or the companionship of friends and family on a daily basis. You probably miss articulating your thoughts in your native language. There might be a certain view from a hilltop back home that brought you joy when you needed it. The familiar sounds and smells of your community can be easy to recall. You might even miss the comfort of knowing where everything is and the feeling of driving a car on familiar roads. You were comfortable, you were in your comfort zone.
Expanding Your Comfort Zone, not Leaving It Behind
It is important to highlight the difference between leaving your comfort zone behind and expanding it. Leaving your comfort zone behind along with the joy you feel in familiar experiences can be a huge mistake. Instead, expanding your comfort zone is the approach that will most likely help you to adapt and discover new and exciting experiences—without leaving behind certain aspects of your identity. These experiences will lead you to discover your strengths. How will you know, for example, if you have a natural talent for public speaking if you never try it?
Sometimes your dream job is outside your comfort zone. Sometimes saying yes to new prospects, no matter how nerve-racking they may seem, is the only way to reach your goal. Keeping your eyes open for opportunities to develop new skills—and saying yes to those opportunities—will set you apart. Your new experiences will expand your current skill set, perhaps introduce you to your dream job, or confirm your career plans.
Steps to a New World
As with everything that is difficult to do, the first step is the hardest. Find out the things that scare you—they could be the very things that help you develop a new skill or provide you with a new experience. Next, decide on a few challenges that are specific to your goal.
For example, the next time your teacher asks a question, raise your hand. The next time you see someone playing basketball, ask if you can join. The next time you are bored, find something to do that you have never done before. Make a list of things that you want to try and start checking them off on a weekly basis. Find volunteer opportunities and jump right in. When you begin any new task with positivity, you are more likely to enjoy it and develop new skills and attitudes.
Put yourself in new environments and say yes; do not just choose the safe choice.
The Rewards of Self-Discovery
These new experiences, along with self-exploration, will ultimately develop your confidence. When you commit to pushing yourself more, you will discover that your capabilities are vast. In addition, your experiences can be relevant to your career goals or not, but the skills and confidence they help you to develop will create a domino effect that positively impacts your career. Your greater confidence will play a huge role in your ability to say yes to more challenging opportunities.
Failure Is Part of the Process
The fear of failure—worrying about judgment from others and believing that we are not good enough—is what stops most of us from pursuing our dreams. But essential to our growth is the belief that we deserve more. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous words, “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ….” is a great reminder that success should not be hindered by fear but rather fueled by it.
The excitement of the unknown that is outside your comfort zone must fuel your journey to a productive, fulfilling career.
There is an illustration called the balloon in a box. Suppose you have a balloon inside a small box. As you blow air into the balloon, it expands; however, it is constrained from getting any larger than the size of the small box, even though it has the potential to grow larger than the box itself.
The box is your comfort zone, and the balloon is your potential. To reach your full potential, the balloon must break free of the box. Of course, the balloon will fill with pressure and risk popping, but eventually, the pressure will be strong enough that the balloon will burst the box open.
There is a whole world outside your comfort zone.